Sh’ma

Ethan Milner

after Tree of Life

 

When Jews die, my father told me, we are supposed to say
a final prayer to God. It goes “Hear O Israel, our lord is God, God
is one.” We say this in Hebrew so that God understands it
in his own tongue, so that the words have power in and of
themselves. We ask our beloved to hear a testament
and we ask God to bear witness as we dissolve and fall
away from the world. We don’t say goodbye or give thanks
to the ones that held us through, nor do we ask for grace
or peace or forgiveness for those that had to kill for bread.
I asked my father what happens if a Jew can’t say the final
prayer—what if there’s an accident, or a Jew is murdered?
What if a Jewish heart explodes or a Jewish baby is born dead?
God says it for them, my father told me, as if I should have
heard his voice by that point. All I’d ever heard were sounds
in the world: a tree branch snapping, breath in the lungs,
guitar strings amid radio static—echoes that should have evoked
the beating heart of God, but never did. I stopped listening,
seeking only resonance to subtract me from what cannot answer,
earthbound questions unaddressed. In such solitude, we always
hear our jaws crack. Noise becomes its own place, one where
we withdraw ourselves to say: “Silence, O Void” and gunfire
………………………………………………….drowns out God’s name.

 

 


Ethan Milner is a writer and a clinical social worker in Oregon, practicing psychotherapy at a school for youth with special needs. His work has most recently appeared in Memoir Mixtapes, Yes Poetry, and The Scores (UK). He can be found tweeting at @confident_memes and at ethanwritten.com.